Ways it is said without it being said
From early on in the relationship to throughout your time together, there are ways to say “I love you” without saying “I love you.” And, in many cases, the alternatives are more meaningful, because they are, arguably, more clear.
Jessica Semaan wrote a lovely piece on other ways to say “I love you.” In response, here are ten additional alternatives I’ll offer:
- “I see you.” Not always in the literal sense, though sometimes even looking directly at the person you care about, with undivided attention, can mean the world. But beyond that, the gesture of emotional and mental acknowledgement is invaluable. It is the basic foundation of “you matter.” It is the second of buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s four love mantras: “Darling, I know you are there.”
- “I understand you.” The gift of listening, and empathy. And in the case of hard times, it is the third of Thich Nhat Hanh’s four love mantras: “Darling, I know you are suffering.”
- “I am here for you.” The gift of presence. Physical and emotional. I love the concept of “holding space.” As someone who prefers to show rather than say emotions, this one is incredibly meaningful for me, both to give and receive. But this can be as light as “I am here with you;” i.e., “quality time.” This is the first of Thich Nhat Hanh’s four love mantras: “Darling, I am here.”
- “I cherish, honor, and respect you as your own person, with your own lived experience outside of what you offer me, my wants, or my needs.” And, put differently…
- “I will care lightly, with non-attachment, and I will let you breathe.” When your love is genuine, it is calm and composed enough — secure enough — to let the other person exist freely.
- “I value whatever is best for your own lived experience.” And, put differently: “I value your happiness enough that I just want you to be happy.”
- “I give without needing anything in return — and this includes ‘love’ or ‘appreciation.’” Love does not come with conditions. These are conditions.
- “Your pain is my pain.” But, in should be said, never in a way that “usurps” their pain. Sometimes people have this incredibly unwelcoming habit of “over-taking” your own experience and reacting more to it than you have; that’s not the love I’m talking about. This is quiet — an echo back; a silent reflection; a shared embrace.
- “Your happiness is my happiness.” Again, never to “usurp” the happiness of the beloved, always in echo and embrace.
- “I will help.” As someone who values self-sufficiency, receiving an act of service is an act of vulnerability. When someone offers help — and then actually follows through on it without looking for anything (including “appreciation”) in return — it’s like a one-two punch that’s hard to mis-read.
Different messages are meaningful for different people, but these are some of mine.
None of them, you may note, include messages of either:
- “Feelings” (“I feel,” “You make me feel,” “I am overwhelmed with,” etc.)
- or “My wants and needs” (none of them start with “I want,” and none of them end with “I want.” Or any synonyms.)
Because self-serving notions are not full love. That’s not to say that we should not protect ourselves from toxic or harmful love, but (a) doing so is not love in and of itself and (b) serving our interests isn’t either. It’s merely a check; a safeguard.
Love is extending energy to another person, as they exist, in and of themselves — not as they exist in relation to you, and certainly not for what they offer you.
True love stands alone; true love is offering, and doing so freely. And true love is said in so many other, sometimes even more meaningful, ways than those three little words — albeit they’re still nice to hear.